Reporter: Liam Bartlett
Producer: Glenda Gaitz
There's one in every class. Bullies who make school life a misery for their victims.
But these days, there's no escape. The nightmare never ends.
The bullies have gone on-line attacking our kids via their computers and mobile phones.
They never let up, they're at it 24 hours a day. In a number of cases, the torment's been so pervasive, so evil, it's ended in tragedy. The desperate young victims committed suicide.
And often, parents don't find out what's going on until it's too late.
But at last, someone's standing up to the cyber bullies. Young Australians with their own high tech solution.
Kids Help Line:1800 55 1800 or www.kidshelponline.com.au
Life Line: 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.com.au
NetAlert – Protecting Australian Families Online:
1800 880 176 or visit www.netalert.gov.au/
Internet Health and Safety Rescources and Teaching:
Essential Resources for Cyber Safety: www.cybersafeworld.com
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Wood's Complete Guide to Stopping Cyber-Bullying:
The National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) is a peak body working to advise and inform the Australian community on the issue of childhood bullying and the creation of safe schools and communities including the emerging issue of cyber safety.
NCAB is an initiative of The Alannah and Madeline Foundation. www.ncab.org.au
LIAM BARTLETT: Are you going to come and talk to us please?
LIAM BARTLETT: Two families face-off on a suburban doorstep.
KERRYN DESTRANG: And what else did you say?
ALI DESTRANG: You said you would spit on my coffin.
ALI DESTRANG: You said spit on your coffin.
BULLY: I would.
KERRYN DESTRANG: That's really nice, isn't it, coming from a child?
BULLY: Yeah, it is.
LIAM BARTLETT: This shocking confrontation is the result of a new and troubling phenomenon facing modern-day kids.
KERRYN DESTRANG: So you don't even care that my daughter's being abused on the computer and your daughter sits there and says she'll spit on her coffin? It's absolutely disgraceful!
LIAM BARTLETT: As you'll see, this is life in the age of the cyberbully.
KERRYN DESTRANG: Come on!
BULLY’S MOTHER: Get off my (bleep) doorstep!
KERRYN DESTRANG: I'm not going anywhere!
BULLY’S MOTHER: Go!
KERRYN DESTRANG: I'm not going! Get your hand off me now! Get your hand off me now!
BULLY’S MOTHER: Then (bleep) off!
KERRYN DESTRANG: No!
LIAM BARTLETT: Like millions of kids around Australia, Ali Destrang is a child of the communication age. She spends hours on the Internet and mobile phone and it makes her a prime target for the new breed of cyberbullies. What sort of things do they say, Ali?
ALI DESTRANG: Like, call me a fat loser or - and stuff like that. Really mean stuff.
LIAM BARTLETT: What is it about what they say to you on the computer that hurts?
ALI DESTRANG: Everything.
LIAM BARTLETT: As someone not so familiar with this teenage cyberworld, I was stunned at how rough it can get and how immediate. I watched as, seconds after logging on, Ali was confronted by her tormentors - former friends from school who've turned on her. (Reads) " Why dun u get in it and die coz we will all be go to your funeral and be dancing and partying." The moment they see she's joined the chat room, they strike.
ALI READS: "Everyone stop talking for a sec. Have to say something to Fat so she reads it."
LIAM BARTLETT: "Have to say something to Fat so she reads it." Does she mean you?
ALI DESTRANG: Yeah, she means me.
LIAM BARTLETT: The kids that are bullying you, are they nastier online than they are when you see them face-to-face?
ALI DESTRANG: Yeah, they're nastier online. Maybe they have more freedom. Like, there are no teachers around or anything. And, like, maybe their parents aren't watching or they're in a room so they can just say it.
LIAM BARTLETT: What would you like to do about it?
ALI DESTRANG: Make it stop. Like, there's other kids out there as well and I don't want them to get bullied either 'cause it's not nice.
LIAM BARTLETT: But right now, there's no stopping it. Ali's friends are also in the bullies' sights. Mel Abreu has just changed schools after being threatened on her phone and computer. Do they bully you on the Net?
MEL ABREU: They're, like, on some of my pictures they put, "Do you want to get raped?" and all this stuff.
LIAM BARTLETT: Kyann Procter says her entire life is being affected.
KYANN PROCTOR: And then it just builds up and just makes everything worse, and then all of a sudden it just gets so bad that you just don't want to do anything any more. I don't think that they see what it's really doing to us, like, in the long-run.
MEL ABREU: It's breaking down our self-esteem.
ROBYN TREYVAUD: It's about destroying people's reputations. Ah, what we find is that those kids are having a 24/7 bullying experience. There's no break for them.
LIAM BARTLETT: Robyn Treyvaud is a former teacher who now studies this new high-tech form of bullying. She believes it's become an epidemic because our teenagers often inhabit a secret virtual world we adults simply don't understand.
ROBYN TREYVAUD: The real experts are the children. You know, the young people, when it comes to the cyberworld, they know more than we do. We don't use it. We don't appreciate that their online communities and networks are just like the real world.
LIAM BARTLETT: And in this cyberworld the bullies' other weapon of choice is the mobile phone - not just toxic texting, but a violent new trend where a victim is bashed and the humiliation videoed on a mobile phone to be posted on popular Internet sites for millions to see.
KATIE LANKUTS: They've taken my freedom and my happiness away, and now all I ever want to do is really be alone.
LIAM BARTLETT: 16-year-old Katie Lankuts is still getting over such an attack - king hit and kicked by a bigger girl in the schoolyard, all the while being recorded by, not one, but three mobile phones.
KATIE LANKUTS: She grabbed me by the top of me head and started kicking me, kneeing me in the head while I was on the ground. I could see people standing just there, filming it.
LIAM BARTLETT: Within hours of the bashing, the video was posted on YouTube and people were laughing about it in Internet chat rooms. Meanwhile, Katie was in hospital with head injuries and a broken jaw.
KATIE LANKUTS: And when I was getting bashed I had the feeling, thinking, "Why is this happening?" But then it was sort of like if she hits me one more time is it going to be fatal? Like, it felt like I was going to die right there.
LIAM BARTLETT: The mobile phone here makes any act of bullying completely public. There's no privacy for these kids whatsoever, is there?
ROBYN TREYVAUD: The Internet is not private. There is nothing truly private on the Internet.
LIAM BARTLETT: And that's just the problem. Kids are so savvy about the technology that if they want to bully you, it's pretty hard to stop them, even on the biggest networking website. That's my MySpace page.
TOM WOOD: Yep.
LIAM BARTLETT: Do your worst. At 16, Tom Wood is a veteran of the cyberworld and internationally famous for his hacking skills.
TOM WOOD: I now have your MySpace password.
LIAM BARTLETT: What? You're kidding! It's taken 21 seconds. 21 seconds to get my password from MySpace?
TOM WOOD: Doesn't take long.
LIAM BARTLETT: How did you do that?
TOM WOOD: If I told you, I'd have to kill you.
LIAM BARTLETT: How big do you think the problem is?
TOM WOOD: You go around to almost every school in the country and they would have had more than one incident. It's widespread.
LIAM BARTLETT: You're talking about thousands of kids.
TOM WOOD: Oh, it would be hundreds of thousands, easily.
LIAM BARTLETT: And Ali is one of those being targeted. Still shaken by the threats we saw online, she must now face the bullies in class for the first time. Every day, the trip to Perth's John Forrest Senior High School is a test of courage, but today would be the worst ever.
KERRYN DESTRANG: What about if you just pretend they're not going to be there, Ali.
ALI DESTRANG: You don't know, Mum. You're not there.
KERRYN DESTRANG: She used to be a child that wanted to go to school every day, no matter if she had a cold or anything.
LIAM BARTLETT: She used to be very good at school, didn't she?
KERRYN DESTRANG: Very good. She was the top student at primary school.
LIAM BARTLETT: And with all the cyberbullying she's just gone to pieces?
KERRYN DESTRANG: It's frightening. I mean, it pulls your heart out with the things you're seeing on there. I mean, you don't know whether to believe them or not but it still hurts deep down that your child's being picked on like that.
LIAM BARTLETT: The day at school doesn't last long. Soon after dropping her off, we hear from Ali.
KERRYN DESTRANG: I've just got a message from Ali to say "I'm wagging."
LIAM BARTLETT: "I'm wagging?" But you've only just dropped her off. It's only been 15 minutes since you dropped her off.
KERRYN DESTRANG: Obviously, she's not happy there, or she's scared.
LIAM BARTLETT: So what does that mean? She's just run away from school?
KERRYN DESTRANG: She's run away from school.
ALI DESTRANG: It happens every day, Mum. It's not going to stop. You don't understand that.
LIAM BARTLETT: For nearly a year, it's been like this and Ali and Mum Kerryn have tried everything to stop the bullies.
KERRYN DESTRANG: I've been to the school on numerous occasions, I've been to the Education Department. Nothing, no return.
LIAM BARTLETT: What do you mean 'nothing'? They don't want to do anything?
KERRYN DESTRANG: The Education Department, when I rang them, they said they'd get back to me and I've never heard.
LIAM BARTLETT: So what's the answer?
KERRYN DESTRANG: This is what I want, answers. Where do we find them? Where do we go to next?
LIAM BARTLETT: As a last resort, Kerryn's decided to take matters into her own hands - confront the bully and her mother face-to-face.
KERRYN DESTRANG: Are you gonna come and talk to us please?
LIAM BARTLETT: But no-one could have predicted what happened next. BULLY:I'm getting ready. I don't have to talk to that fat dog.
KERRYN DESTRANG: Come on then. Come on.
BULLY’S MUM: Get off my (bleep) doorstep! Go!
KERRYN DESTRANG: I'm not going! Get your hand off me now! Get you hand off me now!
BULLY’S MUM: Then (bleep) off!
KERRYN DESTRANG: No!
BULLY’S MUM: I'll punch you in the (bleep) head! Get!
KERRYN DESTRANG: Don't do it again, OK?
ALI DESTRANG: Let go of her now! She slapped her and then she went like this.
LIAM BARTLETT: Are you okay?
KERRYN DESTRANG: Yeah.
LIAM BARTLETT: Don't worry. Fortunately, Kerryn escaped injury. We were all shocked that what started as teenage taunts on a computer had turned so serious. But this is a problem that can have deadly consequences. In the US, 13-year-old Megan Meier killed herself after being bullied on the Internet. OPERATOR: What's going on there? WOMAN: My daughter hung herself. Okay, just stay on the line.... RON MEIER: Why? My daughter still took her own life. Neither one of us dispute that. She did the act but, yeah, they drove her to the cliff and shoved her off.
LIAM BARTLETT: As a result, American law-makers are pushing for cyberbullying to be made a crime. In Australia, the laws are also weak. Despite her violent bashing, Katie Lankuts's attacker got off with a good behaviour bond. So now she's fighting for change, too, pushing politicians for harsher sentences.
KATIE LANKUTS: I want to be the one that's actually changing things, you know? I want to do law, because I want to make sure that people that do this actually get something. I want to make sure that this never happens to anybody else.
LIAM BARTLETT: Tom Wood is doing his bit by sharing his computer wizardry at schools around the country, teaching kids how to block the bullies. He says until the law catches up with technology the best protection is self-protection.
TOM WOOD: You must delete, block the offender, and report it - and that's the most important step, reporting it. On MySpace you can report abuse at the bottom, on MSN in the 'help' menu, on mobiles to your service provider, and they should deal with it and stop the offender.
LIAM BARTLETT: Of course, there is a simpler solution. Why don't you just turn off the computers?
ALI DESTRANG: We shouldn't have to.
KYANN PROCTOR: I like going on the computer 'cause then I get to talk to people that I haven't seen for ages and plan stuff, but if I don't go on, how can I talk to them?
ROBYN TREYVAUD: By saying to kids, "You don't need MSN, turn it off, and we won't have Internet access." Well, that's like saying to adults "Terribly sorry, but you're not going to have your mobile phone or anything you use to network with your friends, your family."
LIAM BARTLETT: But if its ruining their lives?
ROBYN TREYVAUD: They don't see it as being something you just turn on off.
LIAM BARTLETT: Bullying has always been hard enough to tackle in the schoolyard. But our technology has brought with it new and more insidious avenues of torment. The challenge in a digital age is to keep pace with the new breed of high-tech bullies, and that may mean listening more carefully to our kids.
ALI DESTRANG: Speak up for yourself. Don't hide it, 'cause hiding it just makes it worse. You need to, like, talk to people. Tell Mum, Dad, whoever. You, like, you can't keep it in forever because it will just make things worse.